Jack Kerouac’s 30 Beliefs and Techniques For Writing Modern Prose

Image by Tom Palum­bo, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Jack Ker­ouac is the patron saint of every star­ry-eyed, born-too-late, wan­der­lusty hip­ster scribe who falls in love with the poet­ry and vision­ary pow­er of their own inner voice. I may be old and crusty now, but I once fell under Kerouac’s spell and spilled my guts unedit­ed into long ram­bling prose-poems on exis­ten­tial bliss and tantric Bud­dhist bebop. Then lat­er I real­ized some­thing: Kerouac’s Ker­ouac was very good. My Ker­ouac? Not so much. You got­ta do your own thing. I grew out of Kerouac’s influ­ence and didn’t take much of him with me. Then I real­ized that he wasn’t always good. That he’d made the mis­take of every self-pro­claimed genius and stopped let­ting peo­ple tell him “no.” He said so him­self, in a 1968 Paris Review inter­view with Ted Berri­g­an in which he admit­ted that all his edi­tors since the great Mal­colm Cow­ley, “had instruc­tions to leave my prose exact­ly as I wrote it.” Now I know this was part of his method, but some­times the lat­er Ker­ouac need­ed a good edi­tor.

It is a del­i­cate dance, between the inner voice and out­er editor—whether that taskmas­ter is one­self or some­one else—and the great attrac­tion to Ker­ouac is his damn-it-all atti­tude toward tasks and mas­ters. His impro­vi­sa­tion­al prose is the point (I’m sure some­one will tell me I missed it).

Ker­ouac doesn’t just write about free­dom, he writes free­dom, and for most of us tight-assed wor­ry­warts, his voice is heal­ing balm for our writer’s inner exco­ri­a­tions. 1957’s On the Road is an incred­i­ble exper­i­ment in process as prod­uct (it’s not only a nov­el, it’s an art object)–a three-week burst of non-stop, unin­hib­it­ed cre­ativ­i­ty, so leg­end has it, and unequaled in his life­time. And yet despite his aver­sion to tidi­ness, Ker­ouac, like almost every writer, made lists; one in par­tic­u­lar is thir­ty guide­lines he called “Belief & Tech­nique for Mod­ern Prose.” I’ve excerpt­ed what I think are ten high­lights below, either because they seem pro­found­ly beau­ti­ful or pro­found­ly sil­ly, but in a way that only Ker­ouac the holy fool could get away with. This is not “advice for writ­ers.” It’s a cat­a­log of states of being.

1. Scrib­bled secret note­books, and wild type­writ­ten pages, for yr own joy
2. Sub­mis­sive to every­thing, open, lis­ten­ing
3. Try nev­er get drunk out­side yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Some­thing that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumb­saint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bot­tom­less from bot­tom of the mind
9. The unspeak­able visions of the indi­vid­ual
10. No time for poet­ry but exact­ly what is
11. Vision­ary tics shiv­er­ing in the chest
12. In tranced fix­a­tion dream­ing upon object before you
13. Remove lit­er­ary, gram­mat­i­cal and syn­tac­ti­cal inhi­bi­tion
14. Like Proust be an old tea­head of time
15. Telling the true sto­ry of the world in inte­ri­or monolog
16. The jew­el cen­ter of inter­est is the eye with­in the eye
17. Write in rec­ol­lec­tion and amaze­ment for your­self
18. Work from pithy mid­dle eye out, swim­ming in lan­guage sea
19. Accept loss for­ev­er
20. Believe in the holy con­tour of life
21. Strug­gle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see pic­ture bet­ter
23. Keep track of every day the date embla­zoned in yr morn­ing
24. No fear or shame in the dig­ni­ty of yr expe­ri­ence, lan­guage & knowl­edge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pic­tures of it
26. Book­movie is the movie in words, the visu­al Amer­i­can form
27. In praise of Char­ac­ter in the Bleak inhu­man Lone­li­ness
28. Com­pos­ing wild, undis­ci­plined, pure, com­ing in from under, cra­zier the bet­ter
29. You’re a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Direc­tor of Earth­ly movies Spon­sored & Angeled in Heav­en

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Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian. He recent­ly com­plet­ed a dis­ser­ta­tion on land, lit­er­a­ture, and labor.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear All Three of Jack Kerouac’s Spo­ken-World Albums: A Sub­lime Union of Beat Lit­er­a­ture and 1950s Jazz

Jack Ker­ouac Lists 9 Essen­tials for Writ­ing Spon­ta­neous Prose

Jack Kerouac’s Poet­ry & Prose Read/Performed by 20 Icons: Hunter S. Thomp­son, Pat­ti Smith, William S. Bur­roughs, John­ny Depp & More

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